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Luke Carman: a note on An Ordinary Ecstasy

Luke Carman reflects on An Ordinary Ecstasy (July 2022), his latest collection of short stories.

As sometimes songs and scenes of old
come faintly unto you and me,
When winds are wailing in the cold,
And rains are sobbing on the sea.

— Henry Kendall

An Ordinary Ecstasy was written in a time of isolation. I wandered the empty streets of an evening, and I walked the deserted beaches at the edges of town, watching the darkening waves crash over the sands, and the pelicans huddled on sandbank islands in the channel’s stream. With me, in the beginning, was an audiobook of Ulysses, but between the lines of that masterwork of interiority, I began to hear the voices of the people I knew, slipping into consciousness over the stream of Joyce, coming to me like ghosts from some more populated time. Soon enough these interdicting voices were all that I could hear, so that I couldn’t hear Joyce’s masterpiece at all, and when I looked at the silent unit-blocks and the empty sundowner-shacks around me on the walks, all I could hear was the imaginary voices of the people who would be around me in a time more ordinary. In the end, I was so assailed by the chattering cavalcade of strangers, that I lay awake at night, after my walks, with their murmurs become an obsessive constancy of oratory.

With these new works of fiction, I have tried to exorcise myself of the above possession by bringing this unsolicited heteroglossia to the page. Captured in the series of stories that make up An Ordinary Ecstasy are the voices of people strange to me, all of them in states of ordinary ecstasy – those moments of everyday intensity which punctuate the general calamity of consciousness. An old man’s lust for life keeps him raging against the dying light all around him; a middle-aged woman in need of a connection taps into the raw materials of her distant past; two broken-hearted rogues try to heal on a road-trip to the Northern Rivers; young lovers cling to one another on a flight to Argentina; a journalist with aspirations of poetry takes on a puff-piece about a local hero; a folk musician rides the winding tracks up the Blue Mountains with songs and daydreams on his troubled mind; and a couple reflect on their recent loss with the white waves crashing near them like a fallen storm. The day-to-day shocks and flashes of inner worlds are laid out here, and I see in them the lives of people who are, in their own way, just like us.

— Luke Carman

Photo: Marnya Rothe

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